Saturday, April 29, 2006

100 Years Ago

100 years ago this week, an earthquake rocked the city of San Francisco. The initial shock was felt not only in the Bay Area but as far away as Oregon & Nevada. The damage from the quake was severe - but it was the broken gas lines which ignited fires (some of which burned for days) coupled with ruptured water pipes (rendering firemen helpless) that devastated the city. The death toll is still hotly debated, but likely 3,000 - 6,000 people died. (For more details on this sobering event, you can check out a series of articles posted on the San Francisco Chronicle website.)

I've been reading a book about the tragedy (
Denial of Disaster by Gladys Hansen & Emmet Condon)... and as I looked through the black & white pictures of the devastation yesterday, a number of thoughts raced through my head:
  • I've been through a major earthquake (Sylmar -1971) though we were far enough from the epicenter that it didn't do any damage to our home. And that was scary enough. I can't imagine what it's like for everything "solid" around you to be jumping about.
  • OTOH, I like earthquakes better than tornadoes or hurricanes. All three of them cause havoc & destruction, but earthquakes just happen. With hurricanes & tornadoes, you get the "added bonus" of dread... knowing something bad MAY be coming your way and all you can do is hunker down & ride it out.
  • In the light of Katrina (and the flooding of 80% of New Orleans), it's a bit freaky to read about a massive disaster 100 years ago that occurred just a few hours down the road. It's the same feeling I got last week watching the pictures of the tornado rolling through the north edge of Nashville, TN - my old stomping grounds. It breaks through the artificial distance that disaster films & too many local newscasts create... something like that could happen here. (And if "unsettling" is something you like from your non-fiction reading, here's two good books: A Dangerous Place: California's Unsettling Fate by Marc Reisner and Category 5: The Story of Camille - Lessons Unlearned From America's Most Violent Hurricane by Judith Howard & Ernest Zebrowski.)
  • The biggest direct damage from the quake was in the areas of San Francisco that were built on "made land" - in other words, land created by piling up garbage & wrecked ships & the like and covering them with fill dirt. This is, of course, to my warped "pastor brain", one of the world's greatest illustrations about the passage in Matthew 7 about the man who built his house on the rock vs. the man who built his house on the sand. (I'm pretty sure I'm not the first pastor to come up with one...)
  • Actually, the majority of the damage & deaths were caused by the fires that followed the quake. Which brings to mind another "spiritual" thought: we tend to view our sinful behaviors (the stuff we do that is hurtful & wrong, both to others and to God) through the lens of our own limited perspective - how does this stupid/idiotic/evil behavior affect me? It's easy for us to see & feel the damage from the quake we've caused in our own lives. What we're not so good at is acknowledging that our sins start fires in the lives of so many people around us. John Donne said that "No man is an island"... and he was/is still right.

So, to summarize a bit:

  • I'm glad I live in California... and I'm glad I don't live in the Bay Area.
  • I need to ask myself about what part of my life is built on "made land"... where am I putting my trust in stuff I've thrown together rather than in God?
  • I need to look up and realize the ripple effect of my sin. The stuff I do wrong hurts more than just me.

This article originally appeared in the 4/20/06 issue of the Grapevine, the newsletter of NewLife Community Church.

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